Album Review: Glen Hansard – Didn’t He Ramble

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Famed balladeer of the heartbreak anthem and Academy award-winner for graciously sweet musical Once, Glen Hansard returns with his new solo effort Didn’t He Ramble, bringing a confident, comfortable composure tinted with themes that are closer to home than previous close to heart projects.

Didn’t He Ramble is a mature and steady album that touches on a hopeful, patriotic sound with a sense of homeliness and warmth. If previous records with The Frames felt like standing on a beach in mid-winter, being assaulted by freezing tidal swells, then this album is drying off in front of a cosy fire with a fortifying pint of bitter and comfy socks.

In a short ‘Making Of‘ documentary, Glen reveals that he “really dug deep with these songs”, admitting that “this has been the hardest for me to make because I’ve been chasing specific ideas rather than just going ‘that’s pretty, that works’.”

Opening with Grace Beneath The Pines, the simplistic arrangement and focus on Glen’s ever powerful vocals sets the tone for the rest of the record. Yearning, but not mournfully, instead insistent to convey a powerful intensity that, for the first time, isn’t about love found in relationships.

“There are songs on this record that are about my dad or songs that are about my mother”, he confesses, “and amazingly for me on this record there aren’t really any love songs – they’re all songs to friends or songs to the South”.

Previously rarely-explored themes shine through gorgeously; from dusky, sleepy tracks such as Wedding Ring or Paying My Way that stumble dreamily with soft vocals and a damp thud of a bassline, to warm spirited uplifting songs like Winning Streak where simple lyrics and rousing vocals keep a humble positivity flowing through the early stages of the album.

Her Mercy is a standout track which flirts with elements that creep from soft acoustic to an inspiring crescendo laden with horns, backing choir and Hansard’s recognisable yell full of impassioned enthusiasm that is simply stunning to witness in this hopeful, verging on evangelical, new context.

Moving sweetly from Her Mercy into the charming McCormack’s Wall takes us deeper on a journey into Hansard’s self, weaving prettily through traditional Irish tunes heavy with his warm accent and ending delightfully with Gaelic strings that won’t fail to make you feel like you’re smack-bang in the middle of a traditional Irish pub, Guinness and all.

Towards the end of the record the pace is notably on the downturn, perhaps with the exception of My Little Ruin which has a slight hint of The Frames to it, but with ex-member David Odlum co-producing alongside Thomas Bartlett, it is refreshing to have not entirely lost the familiar swells and crashes that embodied the likes of The Cost (The Frames, 2006).

Despite failing to end on the same highs as were so pleasantly encouraging in the body of the record, Didn’t He Ramble is without doubt an invigorating turn in direction for Glen Hansard, and one that smacks of an artist who has found what they’re good at and sticking to it.

Kerry Manning